Should more netting be installed at Minute Maid Park?

By Aaron Barker - Senior Digital Editor, Cathy Hernandez - Reporter, CNN, Brandon Walker - Reporter

HOUSTON - A girl was hit in the head by a foul ball at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday, renewing the debate over the amount of netting that should be required at ballparks.

The hit happened during the fourth inning of the Astros-Cubs game, when a ball fouled off by Chicago outfielder Albert Almora Jr. flew over the third-base dugout and past the protective netting and hit the child.

“I just saw this rocket of a ball just coming at us and it was very little time to react,” said Heather Doughty, who was seated two rows away from the girl. “All you heard was the mother screaming, she and the other lady with them, they were just screaming, and, of course, then they all took off running upstairs.”

Almora appeared shaken up after the incident. He crouched and held his head in his hands before his teammates and a security guard consoled him. 

"As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her,” Almora said. “Right now, I'm just praying, and I'm speechless.”

Renewed debate

After Wednesday's game, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant told ESPN that he'd like to see netting "around the whole field."

"I mean, you can see through these fences here," Bryant said, referring to the netting. "There's a lot of kids coming to the games, young kids who want to watch us play. And the ball's coming hard. The speed of the game is quick. I think any safety measure we can take to make sure that fans are safe, we should do it."

Almora, at the end of his interview with reporters, was asked if he believed netting should go all the way to the foul poles.

"Right now, obviously, I want to put a net around the whole stadium. I don't know," he said.

Commentators at Sports Radio 610 in Houston said the netting debate has been a hot topic Thursday.

“You’re talking about a missile coming at a young child,” said Seth Payne, of Sports Radio 610. “You want to prevent it as much as possible."

“It just seems like one of those situations where the cost to do it is so low compared to the kind of harm you could actually prevent for fans going to these game,” said Mike Meltser, another commentator at Sports Radio 610. “The majority of people -- it seems to be that people are totally fine with the nets.”

Tickets to baseball games come with warnings about “risk and danger inherent to the game,” including the possibility of being hit by a baseball. The warning is in line with where most case law on the debate has fallen: Baseball teams are not liable for injuries sustained by a foul ball, for the most part.

"This has been going on for a long time," said Tommy John Kherkher, a personal injury attorney and lifelong Astros fan.

Kherkher took to his YouTube channel Monday to discuss the relationship between the law and the diamond.

As far as the chances of filing a successful lawsuit are concerned, Kherkher said it’s likely the girl’s family wouldn’t be successful, given the precedent.

"So, when a case like this goes through the court, what the courts say: 'You went to a baseball game. It's dangerous, you should have known that,'" Kherkher said.

The bigger picture, Kherkher said, is fans’ safety.

"I think it's time for the MLB and Astros to step up and extend netting down the entire foul line," he said.

Netting extended last year

Major League Baseball announced in 2018 that all 30 league ballparks were extending protective netting to at least the far ends of both dugouts -- that is, the ends farthest from home plate -- intending to enhance fans' safety.

The league extended the netting after high-profile incidents in which batted balls struck fans, including a man who was blinded in one eye by a foul ball during an August 2017 game at the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field.

MLB said Wednesday's incident was "extremely upsetting" and implied it would continue examining the issue of fan safety.

"Clubs have significantly expanded netting and their inventory of protected seats in recent years. With last night's event in mind, we will continue our efforts on this important issue," MLB said in a released statement Thursday.

CNN has contributed to this article.

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